Kissing the Tzitzit
In ancient times, tzitzit were worn on everyday clothes as a sign of freedom. They served as a means of identification, as only those who were free were able to wear tzitzit. In these times, kissing the tzitzit was often seen in business dealings wherein it signified the sealing of a contract.
During prayer it is customary that a ‘tallis godal’, a large rectangular garment with tzitzit attached, is worn and that prayer take place while wrapped in this garment. The tzitzit on these prayer shawls are kissed on many occasions, dependent upon what the wearer is doing.
Before putting on the prayer shawl, a blessing is uttered:
Blessed are you Lord,
Our God, Ruler of the Universe
Who has sanctified us with God’s commandments,
And has commanded us to wrap ourselves in fringes.
The tzitzit are then kissed and the prayer shawl is placed over or covering the head before being laid upon the shoulders.
Today, the tzitzit are kissed during recitation of the Shema to reinforce that the words being recited are taken seriously. Prior to recitation of the Shema, the tzitzit are gathered in one hand. During recitation of the third paragraph of the Shema (Numbers 15:37-41) the tzitzit are mentioned on three occasions and on each occasion the tzitzit are kissed.
During the procession (Hafakeh) of the Torah through the synagogue, the tzitzit are often kissed. At this time, the Torah having been removed from the Ark will be taken around the synagogue, and those who are able will reach to the Torah, touching it with their tzitzit. Subsequent to this, the tzitzit, which had touched the Torah scroll, are also kissed, signifying the sheer importance to the people and their love for the Torah. If no tallis is being worn, the prayerbook (siddur) will be offered forth to touch the Torah and subsequently kissed. That the Torah is only touched by the siddur or tzitzit is a sign of respect.
When an individual is called to read a passage from the Torah, the corner of the tallit is placed upon the first word to be read, then the tzitzit will be kissed.
Some kiss the tzitzit each time the word tzitzit is mentioned, others kiss the tzitzit every time they are looked at. Overall, such kissing can be seen as an expression of love for, and dedication to, the mitzvot (commandments of the Jewish law).